Violations of rights instead of legitimate restrictions to control the epidemic marked 2020

Disproportionate restrictions, discrimination and illegal actions marked the past year in Bulgaria- the year in which the world was struggling with the coronavirus pandemic. The rights of hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian citizens were affected. These included the right to personal liberty and security, the right to privacy and family life, the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, the right to move, the right to work and education, and the right to health. In a number of cases authorities used anti-epidemic restrictions to repress political and civic actions which were critical of their policies. The measures provoke periodic dysfunctions in the judicial system.

Human Rights in the Context of COVID-19. The Right to Health

The pandemic has questioned the unconditionality of fundamental rights and freedoms. In Bulgaria, the vulnerable groups were subjected to disproportionate restrictions and measures compared to other economic and social groups and found themselves in a particularly unfavorable position:

  • blockades of Roma neighbourhoods without cases of infected people;

  • lack of mechanisms to exclude certain groups of persons with disabilities from the scope of restrictive measures; 

  • disproportionately long time of isolation of students from junior high school and high school;

  • lack of legal possibility for timely appeal of the quarantine.  

Access to testing and treatment was not well provided. At least two out of every three PCR tests in 2020 were paid for by the patients themselves. There were refusals to provide medical care due to lack of places and/or specialists. The plan to organize the health system during a pandemic leaves doubt that the state did not organize timely medical care to allow optimal access for both patients with COVID-19 and people with other diseases.

The total mortality for 2020 compared to the previous five years marked an increase by about 16 000 people.

Bulgaria's unprecedented refusal to cooperate with international institutions and to comply with their criticisms and recommendations

Many international institutions and organizations at the highest level criticized and made recommendations to Bulgaria related to the implementation of the principles of the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian government  systematically refused to take responsibility for the criticism and to comply with the recommendations.

In just a year, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe published four resolutions against our country for prolonged non-compliance with decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In comparison, for the entire period from 1992 to 2019, two such resolutions were adopted. One of the resolutions in 2020 was related to a group of cases in which the court requires our country to establish mechanisms for control of the Prosecutor General. This topic was also included in the resolution of the European Parliament on the rule of law and human rights in Bulgaria and was discussed in the plenary hall.

Three different international bodies appealed to Bulgaria to take measures concerning the violence against women.

The UN Special Rapporteur pointed out that the sale of babies as a way to tackle poverty is becoming more frequent in Bulgaria.

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment published a shocking report on the situation in Bulgarian psychiatric hospitals and nursing homes for the elderly.

Systematic violation of rights in the context of protests demanding the resignation of the government and Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev 

 In the first days of the protests in July, authorities refused to differentiate peaceful protesters and provocateurs. The police repeatedly used disproportionate force, and the inspections did not lead to the recognition and sanctioning of police violence. Tensions escalated during the biggest protest in the autumn - on September 2 - apart from peaceful protesters, many journalists were also harmed by police brutality. 

The freedom of media in Bulgaria continued to deteriorate. Reporters Without Borders criticized the government's indifference and announced its proposal for measures to address the problem. By the beginning of 2021, the proposed measures had not been taken. Another international organization, the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN), emphasized the preconditions for the media environment to continue to deteriorate in the context of increasing ownership concentration. 

Key facts for 2020

  • 4 interim resolutions against Bulgaria were adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in just one year. This is the result of systematic and long-standing non-compliance with the rulings of the Court of Human Rights. For comparison, from 1992 to 2019 two interim resolutions were adopted 

  • In the first months of the pandemic, as well as during the autumn wave, over 50% of the news content was dedicated to COVID-19. 

  • In the two months from March 13 to May 13, 2020, the Minister of Health issued 75 orders introducing, repealing or amending measures to limit the spread of the epidemic. 

  • For the first time since the beginning of the democratic changes in Bulgaria, the registration of a non-governmental organization - an association of Macedonians in Bulgaria - was terminated in violation of international standards for freedom of association and protection against discrimination. 

  • In the months of the first lockdown, the signals to the three domestic violence hotlines were twice as high as usual. However, the new cases for protection against domestic violence in the first half of 2020 decreased by 25% compared to the same period in 2019, and the protection orders registered by the Ministry of Interior were 45% less 

  • 96% of the refugee cases in 2020 were finally resolved by the court to the detriment of the refugees 

  • A constant case practice has been established that the requirement for accessibility of the architectural environment in public places is imperative. 

  • According to the official statistics of Bulgaria in 2020 there is zero maternal mortality, but according to the Health Insurance Fund at least 7 women died before, during or immediately after childbirth 

  • Fighting with sticks, tying with chains and other unacceptable medieval methods are practiced in Bulgarian psychiatric hospitals and social institutions. The Bulgarian state imposed administrative sanctions, but did not propose a reform of psychiatric care 

  • Nearly 3700 children grow up in residential service instead of growing up in a family environment. 1416 of them are disabled 

  • Every third child in an institution is a newborn baby 

  • The sale of babies as a way to tackle poverty is becoming more common. 

 

The full text of the report is forthcoming.